The Tangible Media Group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) wants to change the way humans interact with physical objects by developing materials that can change their form and appearance dynamically based on digital information. Working towards this goal, TMG has developed the inFORM, a “Dynamic Shape Display” that lets users render 3D content with physical objects.

The inFORM system from MIT is built using Microsoft Kinect (the same designed for the Xbox game console), a projector and a collection of pins that react to input. The display allows for real-time user input through direct touch.

It’s a concept that’s a bit hard to wrap one’s head around, so just check out this incredible video TGM posted to Vimeo.

inFORM - Interacting With a Dynamic Shape Display from Tangible Media Group on Vimeo.

The MIT team said inFORM can be applied towards geospatial data, such as creating maps and models. Urban plans and architects could use inFORM to better understand, share and discuss ideas in a physical form. inFORM could also be used by engineers and designers to create 3D models without needing a 3D printer.

“Remote participants in a video conference can be displayed physically, allowing for a strong sense of presence and the ability to interact physically at a distance,” TGM said on the inFORM website.

TGM is also exploring applications in medical fields, such as physical representations of CT scans and surgical simulations.

It’s a step towards the MIT team’s vision of “Radical Atoms,” the idea of creating new material that transformed and reconfigured with computer data. Changes of the physical material would be reflected in the digital state, and vice versa.

“Radical Atoms is the future material that can transform their shape, conform to constraints, and inform the users of their affordances,” TGM said, adding that it wants to look at bits and atoms in new ways to create a new realm of interaction design.

“We no longer think of designing the interface, but rather of the interface itself as material.”